With VanGorder official, focus turns to offense

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Brian VanGorder starts his Notre Dame coaching career with a bang, jet-setting the country as the new defensive coordinator will spend the next few weeks getting introduced to recruits everywhere. That VanGorder has the ability to pitch his NFL experience, not to mention his two tenures in the SEC, should help cushion any blow that comes from losing Bob Diaco.

For some recruits, VanGorder might actually be a benefit. As the Irish try to identify and target defensive linemen, having a fresh voice and new system could give the Irish a different look. That seems to be the sales pitch to four-star defensive lineman Malik McDowell, a long time Michigan commitment that seems to be giving the Irish real consideration. At 6-foot-6, 290-pounds, McDowell shouldn’t have to do much projecting as to how he’ll look in a Notre Dame uniform, he’s essentially a Stephon Tuitt clone coming out of high school.

While VanGorder completes the defensive staff, the focus now turns to who Brian Kelly plans on adding to his offensive coaching staff. With the coordinator job still vacant after Chuck Martin’s departure to Miami, Kelly’s list of candidates has been often rumored, but far from confirmed. Earlier in the week, eyebrows were raised when BlueandGold.com reported that Kelly was interviewing recently fired Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges and current Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn. That either coach would be an option (for a variety of reasons) is surprising, and didn’t seem to fit what you’d expect from a Kelly hire.

Multiple outlets are pointing to Mike Denbrock taking the interim tag off and becoming the offensive coordinator. The hire makes sense for all sorts of reasons, and Denbrock has a sound understanding of the offense. That doesn’t mean he’ll call the plays. Last week, one source told me that Kelly will call plays and over the past few days, more outlets are reporting the same thing. Kelly gave perhaps his most revealing look into his mindset when talking on SiriusXM radio, an interview that Eric Hansen clocked in the South Bend Tribune.

“I want to be back involved,” Kelly told King (per Hansen). “I think it’s been for me — I don’t want to say frustrating — but we haven’t had the ideal situation for the quarterback … I just feel like we have the right quarterback in place. I think that we’re at that point now where the offense is in a position where we’ve got the skill players that we can be much more aggressive offensively.”

If Denbrock is indeed the new offensive coordinator, and at this point I think the odds are heavily leaning towards that, finding a quarterback coach allows Kelly to infuse some new blood and thinking into the offensive meeting room and keep some continuity for a young receiving corps.

The newest list of candidates were first revealed by WSBT’s Rick Schutt, who pointed to the Oakland Raiders John DeFilippo, East Carolina’s Lincoln Riley and the Redskins’ Matt Lafleur. All three have experience working with mobile quarterbacks.

Kelly says that the decision has been made, with all that’s likely left is a lengthy human resources process that’s been in place since the George O’Leary fiasco. But each coach brings a unique skillset, with NFLers DeFillipo and LaFleur working with Terrell Pryor and Robert Griffin III respectively while Riley is a Mike Leach disciple who has done impressive things under Ruffin McNeill at ECU. LeFleur coached under Kelly at Central Michigan before catching on with the Shanahans, first with Kyle in Houston and then heading to Washington as the quarterback coach.

As the Irish look to reboot their offense will Everett Golson back at the helm, infusing the staff with some new ideas as the personnel continues to improve will be crucial. We’ll see what direction Kelly chooses to go soon.